Bereishit

Creation and life

Many before have pointed out the duality of the description of the creation, the double narrative in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Bereishit. Many before have tried to reconcile the differences between them or explain the contradictions. (For example Rav Soloveitchik, Lonely Man of Faith.) We too will look at one of the differences between the two that cause people studying these chapters to realize that the two do not merely present a change in landscape and style, but also teach us different lessons.

 

The first chapter of Bereishit describes the stages of creation one day at a time. The verses paint a picture of a carefully crafted process. In the beginning of the creation the scene is set and the foundation is laid with the earth and the sky; within this mold the entire world of creation will unfold. The backdrop is gradually filled. At the end of the process humankind is created, and afterward there is Shabbat and the Creator rests from His work. (Chapter 1 – Chapter 2, v. 3) In this description man and woman are part of the greater creation, even though they are clearly the most developed creatures they need everything that was created before them. It seems that the world of creation is all preparation for the arrival of humankind.

This viewpoint, which sees the description of the creation as a preparation for Adam and Chava- man and wife. is the theme of a Yotzer. Written in 9th century Italy by Rav Amitai bar Rabbi Shefatia in honor of his sister’s wedding, the poem is a lengthy description of the preparations for Adam and Chava’s wedding. Here is a short excerpt:

Master, who from the start can relate the end of years,

In the beginning when nothing was prepared…

Back then He had in mind to create bridegrooms,

Before they were formed He readied all their needs,

To teach their children the ways of the marriage canopy.

He fixed and laid their roof in the sky…

And made light to brighten their wedding feast…

On the second He attached upon it, pleasant and beautified
And prepared groomsmen to chime and drum…

On the third He gathered and cleared space for a theater of shows…

One the fifth He called forth birds and fish and prepared them for food…

 

There are many layers of symbolism woven into this poem. It describes the entirety of creation as an excited preparation in anticipation of the arrival of Adam and Eve, the bride and groom. Accordingly, the entirety of the creation story can be read as instructions for wedding preparations. The poem presents humanity as the goal of creation and the establishment of the family unit as  the most central of all human ambitions. This poem seems to be based on a careful reading of the first chapter of Bereishit and a deep understanding of its underlying tone.

 

In contrast to this description the second chapter reads like an abridgement of the creation process, “These are the chronicles of the heavens and the earth when they were created, on the day the Lord God created earth and heavens.” This description abandons the rhythm of creation; it shifts our perspective on the process and our understanding of the proportions. The creation of the world is merely the first stage. All of creation is presented as a new machine that is waiting to be used, waiting for someone to press the start button. This anticipation is described in the verse, “And every shrub of the field had yet to be in the land, and all the grass of the field had yet to grow, for the Lord God did not send rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.” God has yet to send rain; in order for the world to get going another source of energy is needed. Water is needed to satiate the ground, start the plants growing, provide food for the fauna, and begin the continuous cycle of nature.   

 

The reason God has not yet sent rain is stated in the verse, “there was no man to work the ground.” The natural process could have been started already, but the process would get out of control and the land would be lost. Nature needs work and it needs taming. Man receives this job- to serve and guard the world. And so the world waits for man to come and complete the act of creation. In the continuation of the story we will all too soon learn of man’s shortcomings. But for now man is not introduced as an additional and final stage of creation, nor is creation made to serve man; man is made to serve creation.

In years to come Turnus Rufus will ask Rabbi Akiva whose actions are more pleasant, those of God or those of man. Rabbi Akiva will answer that man’s ability to make bread out of the grain that God provides proves that man’s actions are preferable. This description of creation pits man against God. And in this scenario God needs man to repair creation, which is incomplete.

 

The first chapter recalls a golden child, the spoiled youngest child born in old age, while the second chapter brings to mind the responsibility and authority of an oldest child. As people we move between these two extremes. On the one hand we subjugate the creation for our needs. We believe we have the right to use animals and kill them, the right to pick and eat the vegetation, and the right to plant and build on land, and harness the light of the sun. On the other hand we work to preserve the world. We are worried about the state of the ozone layer, we examine possible ways to preserve and protect the poles, we raise animals, and some people even choose to be vegetarians or vegans. We try to protect animals or other creatures from extinction. We are in a constant dialogue with nature; at times we take the point of view of the exploiter and at times the point of view of one beholden.

 

If we look at the two chapters as representative of certain statements about married life and the family unit it seems that they present two different viewpoints. For years stories have presented marriage as the ultimate happy ending, “and they lived happily ever after.” At a certain point there was a change in mindset, as evidenced by 19th century England’s “Vanity Fair.” In that story marriage was just the beginning of the story, from then on life is judged by its shortcomings and failures.

 

The relationship between these two chapters is similar to this literary process. In the first stage the creation culminates with a wedding, the wedding and the surrounding joy is the purpose of the world. The relationship between the couple gives each one a sense of peace and makes them feel complete. And they lived happily ever after. This is not the case in the second chapter. Here the wedding, the marriage, starting a family, and becoming a responsible spouse and parent is just the beginning. Here the story of the heavens and earth is complex- it encompasses all the difficulties and complications involved in family life. Here too there is no single truth, for even though life presents us with upheavals, changes, and challenges, a strong relationship and the love it is built upon can be solid bedrock for a stable marriage.

 

The beginning of the year and the familiar cycle it brings often provides us with a sense of security; the world seems stable and our lives established. This new beginning also carries our prayers for rain, our statement of faith that God will send the tip-tap of the drops- tapping us on the shoulder and reminding us that our work is not complete- we must repair, create, and complete His world.

 

 

Note:  All of Rabbanit Tikochinsky’s parsha commentaries are stored on the LSS web site. To access them, please visit www.lss.org/beitmorasha. You are also welcome to forward the link to people who are outside the LSS community and who may otherwise not have access to her columns.

 

Sat, October 21 2017 1 Cheshvan 5778